OVERVIEW - 13 Assassins REVIEW
13 Assassins takes the "small band fighting against a big group" that Akira Kurasawa did so well in Seven Samurai, in addition to the original 1963 13 Assassins (dir. Eiichi Kudo) and turns that formula into the best Samurai fight scenes ever put to film. Not just an action movie; spiritualism, honor and duty are themes that drive the heroes of the film.
PLOT - 13 Assassins REVIEW
As with many American westerns, which draw so heavily from the lonely ronin, or recovering solider that the Shogunate and Samurai era represents so well, 13 assassins are hired to stop a high ranking lord who has committed ghastly actions. Lord Matsudaira is a disgrace to the code of honor. Due to political circumstances, the only action, and last resort is for him to be assassinated. It has been decades since most Samurai have seen real battle and so acquiring a group of men with such skills does not come easy. The first portion of the film includes the assembly of the namesake assassins, the second act is their journey to cut off the Lord and his army, and finally the large-scale battle between them. It's a simple set up and the execution is well done, lending time to each of the samurai, which is important due to the fast paced action, similar attire and hairstyles that several of them share, making it sometimes difficult to identify them in the heat of battle. Each Samurai is a specialist, whether as a leader, swordsman, explosives or archery. That skill is important to associate once the final battle has commenced because of the weight it lends to each character, and the viewers connection to them.
CINEMATOGRAPHY - 13 Assassins REVIEW
Director Takeshi Miike has always made aesthetically pleasing films and 13 Assassins is no different. Its spectacle is perhaps most impressive. Samurai films don't normally invoke the bombastic explosions and thunderish clattering of swords seen here (The Last Samurai not withstanding). It's Hollywood in this sense, with grand armies marching through picturesque scenery and ancient cities looking vibrant and new. However, it is the close-in shots of the 13, the protagonists and how they are shot in relation to their mostly faceless enemies. Their faces ever-present, capturing their emotions as they slice and survive. It's beyond choreography, you're learning from these instances and it helps characterization because of it. Too many films miss this, whether because it's a stand-in stunt actor, or the action is more important than the character, in any case, 13 Assassins is able to do both.
MUSIC - 13 Assassins REVIEW
The film's score is generic but good. The orchestra drums hit hard and fast, literally drumming up the pace and pressure. It more subtle moments, the sound of the Shakuhachi flute reminds us of the period and setting in which this is all happening. It is hardly differentiated, but in no way does it detract from the experience. The score does what any good piece music should do in a film, provide the necessary emotion in relation to the visuals in the scene.
PERFORMANCE - 13 Assassins REVIEW
As mentioned above, the cast is responsible for most of the Kendo in the film. It's an art, and they all come off as experts. What is smart is that they mostly have their own styles. The main character, Shimada Shinzaemon, the leader of the assassins, is played by Kōji Hashimoto. His style is short and concise, as he's the most experienced and is perceived with a legendary status. This is in contrast to Tsuyoshi Ihara's character who has only perfected his craft as a swordsman and that's reflected in his big, powerful style. I mention these because it is important to each character, and only actors that are similarly focused on their craft as the characters they portray are, could make this work.
13 Assassins REVIEW REFLECTION
13 Assassins has everything you'd want in a Samurai film, and has more of the one thing others may not have enough of, action. Because it is so well choreographed, filmed and clever in its planning, the action alone is the most enjoyable in any Samurai film. It's charged with enough emotion, purpose and the sense of good and evil, that all of the violence and carnage is warranted. It may not have an original plot, but every other element is top class.